Saturday Art: “The Visit” By Max Weber
The Visit by Max Weber(circa 1919)
There are four figures in this painting; one couple is seated at the table, while another couple is standing. I don’t know why, but in my imagination I see it as the artist visiting his parents. The man on the left, who could be the visitor, is wearing a hat and carrying a cane. The figure next to him we know is female because she is wearing a pearl necklace. It also seems that she is wearing an apron and carrying a bowl, so I believe she is cooking the meal. Another man also wearing a hat, and with a book under his arm, and a woman wearing a print dress and dangly earrings are seated at what looks to be the kitchen table. The Brooklyn Museum website speculates that it is a younger couple seated at the table who are the visitors, and the standing couple are the parents.
Max Weber (April 18, 1881 – October 4, 1961) was a Jewish Russian born painter who emigrated to America as a young child (not to be confused with the famous German sociologist of the same name). He is considered to be one of America’s best cubist artists.
He came to New York with his parents from Bialystok and studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as a teenager, before working as a public school teacher for several years in Lynchburg, Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota. Apparently the purpose of those jobs was to save money so he could study art in Europe. In 1905 he did travel to Paris, where he was able to meet and study with a number of famous artists, and became part of the group that frequented Gertrude Stein’s salon. He became close friends with Henri Rousseau, but their styles were completely different; Weber’s art was strongly influenced by cubist artists such as Picasso, Cezanne and Georges Braque. Returning to the U.S. in 1909, Weber was one of the first artists to introduce Cubism here. He never achieved much financial success from those early works, although in 1913 he had a one-man exhibition at the Newark Museum which was the first modernist exhibition at an American museum. Some of his best works from that era are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, including the one pictured above. For some time he was financially sponsored by Alfred Steiglitz, until they had a falling out, and he went back to supporting himself by teaching for many years. In a 1915 newspaper article he stated that his aim was to express “not what I see with my eye but with my consciousness . . . mental impressions, not mere literal matter-of-fact copying of line and form. I want to put the abstract into concrete terms.”
Starting in the 1920’s and into the 30’s and 40’s, Weber changed his style from Cubist and Futurist to a more expressionistic style, and he began exploring Jewish spiritual themes and social issues in his paintings. This article features several of his paintings from the 1930’s and 40’s. He did achieve popularity and financial success over the years with paintings about family life, Jewish heritage and working class struggles, such as this one called “Sign Carriers” from 1938.
The Whitney Museum of American Art will shortly be opening an exhibit in their new location downtown, which features a gorgeous cubist painting by Weber called “Chinese Restaurant”. The New York Times reviewer called it “the highlight of the show”.
Besides continuing to paint up until his death in 1961, Max Weber wrote many articles and books on art and art history, and wrote poetry. His works can also be found at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the National Gallery of Art in DC, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, among others.